College Grads: Don’t Count on Your Degree to Get You a Job

As springtime approaches, we can almost hear the buzz of college seniors finishing up their last assignments, getting ready to graduate and transition into the workforce. College students approaching graduation tend to fall in one of two groups:

GROUP ONE: They approach graduation with a sense of optimism, even giddiness.

GROUP TWO: They approach graduation with a sense of terror and dread.

Those in the first group are giddy, either because they’re among the few grads who actually have a job offer waiting for them, or because they are blindly optimistic that a job will magically appear once they graduate. The second group realizes that there is no promise of a job after graduation, and when they think of how much student debt they’ve accumulated—it’s enough to make them panic, wondering what the hell they’re going to do with their lives.

Actually, neither approach is the right way to face the future. The truth is somewhere in the middle. But we’ll get to that.

Welcome to the Real World

The fact is, college students have been led to believe that you go to school for four years (or maybe six or eight, if you’re getting an advanced degree), and employers are basically waiting at the other end of the graduation line, ready to hire you. If that was true at one time, it isn’t anymore. While it does still happen that way for a few people, the fact is most employers are placing a lot less stock in your college education. A few years ago, an eye-opening Gallup poll revealed that by a wide margin, employers think a job candidate’s knowledge and experience are more important than their college degree! This is a huge sea change from a few decades ago when the whole go-to-college-get-a-job mindset really got started.

Bottom line—while a college degree still matters (at least in some fields), there’s certainly no guarantee that your degree alone will land you a job. Welcome to the world of today.

The Student Debt Problem

Another issue that is plaguing college students these days is the skyrocketing levels of student debt. As college tuition rates climb higher than they ever should, the government keeps backing loans of higher and higher amounts to students who otherwise would never qualify to borrow that much money. As a result, overall student debt has surpassed $1.52 trillion dollars (more than our entire national debt in 1980). A whopping 44.2 million of us now carry student debt, and more than two million graduates have debt that exceeds $100,000. Some graduates even report that they’re paying more in student loan payments than they are on rent! When you consider that most college grads who do find work start in entry-level jobs—that’s a huge burden to bear.

The News Isn’t All Bad

If you’re a student getting ready to graduate, I hope I haven’t just moved you from group number one to group number two! I know the news is a little hard to take—but there is hope. The fact is, there are jobs available for college graduates—including lots of good, high-paying jobs. You just can’t rely on your degree to get them. In this day and age, you have to approach your job search a bit differently, a bit more creatively. I have a whole coaching system dedicated to helping college students find their way into lucrative careers, but for starters, here are a few tips to get you thinking the right way:

  • Prepare in advance. Don’t wait until a month before graduation to start thinking about your job search. Do some research into your chosen job market. Find out which firms or companies are the best in your field to work for, and form a “short list” of companies you want to apply for.
  • Start networking now. Most jobs these days are filled through connections, not by advertising. Build a compelling LinkedIn profile and start connecting with other professionals in your chosen field. Start building your contact list with those with whom you already share a common bond—namely, your professors, classmates and alumni. Attend local business networking events. Start forming a network of your own so when you’re ready to start the job search, you already have a structure in place.
  • Focus on your skills and strengths. You probably don’t have enough work experience to impress an employer yet, but all experience is potentially valuable to an employer, not just job experience. For recent college grads, I recommend putting together a functional-style resume—one that highlights your skills, strengths and experience gained through college projects, part-time jobs and student activities.

Those college grads in Group One are probably in for a rude awakening. But for those in Group Two, the future is not as bleak as it might seem. The right job is waiting for those grads who are willing to be positive, creative and proactive. If you need help preparing for your first real job out of college, I’m here to help. For a free 15-minute consultation, give me a call at 646-320-1126.